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Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Actor Focuses on The Nuts and Bolts

Everybody may know his name but less known about actor John Ratzenberger is his commitment to create a qualified labor pool for U.S. manufacturers. Through the Nuts, Bolts, and Thingamajigs Foundation based in Westlake Village, that he co-founded in November, Ratzenberger gets the word out that it is okay for students to consider careers working with their hands. The foundation is a sponsor for 20 camps this summer pairing middle and high school-aged students in 13 states with a trade or technical school and manufacturers in their area for a close-up, hands-on look at making products. “Every single industry starts with someone inventing something,” Ratzenberger said. “Every one of those inventors started out tinkering.” Ratzenberger, who voices characters in Pixar films, can currently be seen on ABC Television’s “Dancing With the Stars” and the “Made in America” series on the Travel Channel but is best known as know-it-all mailman Cliff Clavin from the sitcom “Cheers.” His interest in philanthropy started with raising money for diabetes treatment and last year his fianc & #233;e Lindsay McGrail suggested he start his own foundation he would have creative control over. “We wanted people to have a smile on their face when they said it,” McGrail explained about the foundation’s name. Ratzenberger is more than just a “flash and dash” celebrity when it comes to his interest in a manufacturing labor pool and instead is willing to do something creative to find a solution, said Kenn Phillips, director of education and workforce development for the Economic Alliance of the San Fernando Valley. “This is not a guy who puts in $1,000 and walks away,” Phillips said. “He actively participates in many ways in identifying the importance of these careers.” Among the early supporters of the organization has been the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association Foundation in Rockford, Ill., and the Gene Haas Foundation provided $100,000 to Nuts and Bolts for its programs. Haas is the president of Haas Automation in Oxnard. “We really love manufacturing and would like to see more focus on it,” said Peter Zierhut, manager of the Gene Haas Foundation. The message Ratzenberger preaches is not news to the manufacturers and workforce development officials in the San Fernando Valley. If there is a number one issue those in the industry face, especially the smaller machining job shops, it is the shortage of good employees. Yet, despite that shortage Southern California remains the nation’s top manufacturing center when compared with other large cities, according to a study released in March by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. The study identified the Valley as the third largest concentration of manufacturing jobs in Los Angeles County with 76,300 jobs. The southeast area of the county and the South Bay had more. As for specific job types, the county’s highest totals were in computer and electronic products (60,000 jobs), apparel (59,800 jobs) and transportation equipment (51,000 jobs). No one finger can be pointed as to why young people no longer take an interest in the trades and working with their hands. In visits to school districts to drum up support for his cause, Ratzenberger found an emphasis on graduates attending college. Schools eliminating shop classes, news reports of manufacturers cutting costs by leaving the U.S. for foreign countries and depictions of manufacturing as a dark and dingy enterprise contribute to the impression the trades are a dead end. The day of the brick factory with the grimy smokestack, however, is an image of the past. Modern manufacturing uses robots and lasers requiring advanced math and science capabilities. “If kids want high tech, manufacturing is the place for it,” said Terry Egan, director of the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association Foundation. Egan’s group is a co-sponsor with Nuts and Bolts for the summer camp program taking place this year. The two foundations envision growing the number of camps to 100 by next summer and to 400 by 2009. The more memorable the camps can be, the better it is for those attending it, Egan said, and when they leave they will have something made of metal they can take home with them. “We are talking about glamorizing again manufacturing, building things,” Egan said. Filming the Travel Channel show puts Ratzenberger in contact with company executives who proudly display in their offices a coffee table or other items made when they took shop classes in high school. Give that same opportunity to a younger child and they learn more about themselves, Ratzenberger said. “If a child makes something with their hands that builds self-esteem,” Ratzenberger said. “They can point at something and say, ‘I made that.'”

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